Bowler Defender review: A kind of Defender GT3 RS that goes everywhere

You can take it to the supermarket and participate in rally competitions

'We desperately need rain' – these are words we in Scotland did not expect to hear anytime soon. Happy, the theme song from the film Despicable Me 2, is also not the song we ever expected to hear in a rally car. At all, it is a surprise to encounter speakers in a thoroughbred off-roader. You notice, it is a rather special day - but that also suits this special car.

The Bowler Defender is the rally version of the Defender (which you can no longer call a Land Rover these days), but in our opinion you can also call it the Defender GT3 RS. Because just like the roughest version of Porsche's 911, this car has a road license plate, a navigation system, air conditioning and even cruise control and a reversing camera. The big difference is that the Bowler Defender was not developed for the track, but for rally tests.

Not a Defender to do your shopping with

And although, according to Bowler, there are already a few people who have bought the car as a fun toy to pick up groceries and do some landscaping on their own property, that is not the purpose of this Defender. Anyone who purchases a Bowler like this will receive very extensive training and tickets to seven rally events.

According to the brand – which is now wholly owned by Jaguar Land Rover – the Bowler Defender is one of the most affordable and accessible ways to get serious about rallying. Relatively speaking, because motorsport will always be a lot more expensive than carp fishing.

Leave this wheel at home when you go to Lidl | Photo: © Bowler

For a few extra cents, Bowler will take your Defender to and from the events. You only need to bring swimming trunks. You can also take the Defender home with you - after all, it is and remains yours. The company brings enough spare parts and you will be assigned your own technician for the event.

You may appoint your own navigator, but Bowler can also arrange a suitable co-pilot for you. The latter is not a bad idea, because we have noticed that you can learn a lot from it. Not only is off-roading a completely different game than circuit driving, you also need someone to tell you 'that the car can really handle that'.

Why nice weather is not ideal for rally driving

We are near Melrose in Scotland and through a lot of hay fever tears we look out onto a clear blue sky and a very dry grass hill. You wouldn't expect it, but precisely because it is so dry, the marked course over the grassy landscape is on the slippery side. With a wetter soil, the wheels push more into the mud when braking; Now it's quickly blocking and sliding. The surface is harder and crushed grass is surprisingly slippery.

And all assistance systems are disabled in the special Bowler mode. The trick of rally driving, according to the navigator, is 'reading the terrain'. We interpret that as 'watch out for potholes and especially brake', but in the Bowler Defender it apparently means 'finding the pothole that you can crash through the hardest'.

In fact, if you arrive at a ditch with enough speed, you no longer feel it - because you fly over it. It feels unnatural to steer a car with so little mechanical sympathy over potholes, ditches, loose stones and small obstacles, but the Defender doesn't make a sound. The Bowler undergoes the torture effortlessly, and with a surprising amount of stability.

You do have to brake earlier than you are used to and you take a bend a little wider than you would like here and there (fortunately there is enough run-out), but you never really have the idea that you will lose the car or end up on its side. lay. You have to be careful with the stone walls on the left and right. The landings after small jumps are still surprisingly soft, even though you are sitting in a hard bucket seat. In addition, the Bowler steers very lightly due to the power steering, which is unchanged compared to the normal Defender.

Specifications of the Bowler Defender

While you may be able to set a somewhat acceptable time on the circuit after a few laps, the learning curve is a bit different here. But we understand that Bowler dares to call the Defender an accessible racing car; trust comes quickly. At the front is a modest 2.0-liter four-cylinder. A relatively small engine is beneficial for the car's balance, and the 300 hp is more than enough to accelerate smoothly without inexperienced drivers quickly getting into trouble.

The engine, gearbox and differentials are the same as those in the production Defender. Bowler does install a roll cage, different brake pads, large Fox Racing dampers and off-road wheels. Half of the interior will also disappear and the belly of the car will be equipped with quite a few metal protective parts. Most of the maintenance could simply be carried out by the Land Rover garage, using standard parts.

Furthermore, Bowler leaves almost all auxiliary systems on the car. There is no longer room on the racing wheel for the cruise control buttons, but they are now on the dashboard. Handy if you have to take the next rally test via public roads, because that is often the case. Hence the license plate. The navigation screen is still in the same place and all apps still work.

A bit of Defender, a bit of Bowler | Photo: © Bowler

You don't have to miss things like the automatic windshield wipers either; the nozzles have even been upgraded to wash dirt from the window. Only seat heating and ventilation are no longer available in the bucket seats, and the airbags have been removed.

Participate in international competitions with the Defender

Converting a normal Defender to a Bowler takes four people about three days. The weight of the car remains virtually the same; what disappears when the interior is removed is compensated by reinforcements and the roll cage.

If you get the hang of your Bowler Defender after seven races, you can, for example, participate in the International Baja Series, with trials in France and Morocco, among others. And then you're happy that you have air conditioning in your car.

How much does this fun pastime cost?

Bowler offers the Defender for the equivalent of around 138,000 euros - and that includes training and the seven events. Then you have a copy with an English license plate, but possibly with left-hand drive. At Bowler they are still looking at how they will approach it with other license plates. If you want the brand to take the car to tests for you and take it away again, you have to pay approximately 18,000 euros extra per year.

Keep in mind that you also spend an additional 18,000 euros on brakes, tires and other parts per rally season. Unfortunately, 'just' buying a Bowler Defender without extras is not possible; but you don't want to miss all that action. Would you like to participate in the International Baja Series after the first trials? Then you have to take into account approximately 80,000 euros for the complete season. Driving the Dakar Rally with this Bowler is not possible, because the car does not (yet) meet the specifications.

Specifications of the Bowler Defender (2023)

Engine 1,997 cc four-cylinder turbo 300 hp @ 5,500 rpm 400 Nm @ 1,500 rpm Drive four wheels 8v automatic Performance 0-96 km/h in 6.7 s top 191 km/h Consumption (average) 9.6 l/100 km 260 g /km CO2, G-label Dimensions 4,583 x 2,105 x 1,974 mm (lxwxh) 2,587 mm (wheelbase) 2,065 kg 90 l (petrol) luggage space n/a Prices approx. € 138,000 (UK)